The Daily Telegraph
Amphitheatre is the perfect setting for a Roman culture clash
Adventures With the Painted People Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Apowerful Scottish woman and an influential man who speaks Latin meet in the village of Kenmore in Highland Perthshire. On this premise, one could be forgiven for thinking that Adventures With the Painted People, the latest play by acclaimed playwright David Greig, was about a political summit between Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson. However, this twohander, first broadcast on Radio 3 in June last year and now being staged at Pitlochry Festival Theatre, is set around 2,000 years ago.
Greig’s many plays range from the political classic Europe to the moving Holocaust drama Dr Korczak’s Example. In recent years, the first call on his energies has been his job as artistic director of Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre; Adventures With the Painted People is his first original play since 2013. Its protagonists, Eithne and Lucius, are, respectively, a Fife-born witch and a captured Roman soldier. Eithne (a non-caledonian) is freelancing for the Caledonian “Salmon People”; she has Lucius tied up and (she assures him) surrounded by deadly curses. He is to be a bargaining chip in the sorceress’s planned peace talks with the Roman governor.
The relationship that ensues between the two is a sometimes comic, sometimes thought-provoking clash of cultures. There could hardly be a starker contrast than that between the brutal logic of imperial Rome – too many straight lines, says Eithne – and the poetic mysticism of the Caledonians.
One can see the play’s radio origins in its modesty of scale. It’s directed by Elizabeth Newman in a production as crisp and tight as Greig’s two-act structure demands. The play benefits from being presented in a gorgeous little outdoor amphitheatre built in the glorious Explorers Garden, adjacent to the theatre. As the brilliant Kirsty Stuart (Eithne) and the stoic if occasionally overstretched Nicholas Karimi (Lucius) play in the circular sandpit set, it isn’t difficult to imagine ourselves in a Perthshire forest in the first century AD.
Greig’s flights of historical fancy are no more bizarre than those of Shakespeare or a modern playwright such as Howard Barker. Instead, it’s in the play’s too-obvious romantic dimension that your credulity is strained. Greig is one of the most cerebral playwrights of the 1990s set of British dramatists misnamed the “in-yer-face” generation. Enjoyable and often compelling though it is, Adventures With the Painted People is unlikely to be remembered as one of his greatest works.